Sunday, December 20, 2009

Doggerel #217: "100% Safe"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

There's a very simple thing to say about this bit of doggerel: There's no such thing as "100% safe." That's what makes it so favored by scaremongers for a type of goal post moving: The impossible standard.

One problem often inherent to mankind is the inability to properly evaluate risk. People often worry about highly improbable but dramatic dangers than they do about the mundane, everyday hazards of living. That's why, for example, anti-vaxxers will latch onto any unlikely perceived danger in vaccines while ignoring the potentially lethal effects of the diseases they prevent. They also tend to ignore the everyday small, safe doses of the toxins in our food, produced naturally in our bodies, or even necessary to live. (The dose makes the poison, after all)

Life is messy. Science has advanced our way of life to the point that most of us take health and safety for granted. We can afford to drive to work because safety tests ensure our cars' seat belts, crumple zones, and air bags will protect us, police enforce speed limits, lights and signs regulate the flow of traffic, and so on and so forth. The same is essentially true for food and medicine in developed nations. Dedicated individuals do their part so that we don't have to expend as much effort on everyday health decisions: They do all the analysis work on risks and benefits for us.

Of course, I'm not advocating leaving it all to the regulatory agencies. If you have some condition you need to be treated for, you should read up on it, ask questions, and so forth. Just be cautious if someone trying to sell you something whines excessively about small risks or promises complete safety. That's the other aspect of this doggerel: The Perfect Solution Fallacy: Just because the most reliable methods fall short of absolute perfection isn't reason to reject them.

5 comments:

themadengineer said...

If given a choice, I think most animals, humans included, would want to be immortal, or nearly so. The very idea of dying frightens people.
"100% safe" is about not having any risk at all, which is as deeply desired as it is irrational. Even things that are 99% safe leave people worrying about that 1%. (Like, say, can of vegetables. Sustains your life! But may choke you to death if something goes wrong! Oh noes! And you could cut yourself on the sharp lid!)

Dark Jaguar said...

I think most of us would like to be immortal.

Now let me make some things clear on that. I have heard and very well understand arguments made by Dawkins and the like about the various downsides of immortality, from sheer boredom with life to using up the world's resources as the old generation doesn't move out of the way while new generations continue to be born.

I agree with those. But, it certainly shows a lack of imagination. Personally, the only immortality I'd pick would be one with an "opt out" option. That is, not immortal where I CAN'T ever die, but immortal except that I can turn myself off if I decide to. I think having full choice of when you die is far better than leaving it up to random uncontrollable accidents or the slow and tortuous ravages of age doing you in.

As for the second problem, I think that basically anyone who picks immortality would have to make a choice to give up the ability to have children in exchange. If anything it would massively slow down the rate of child birth in many places where families have large amounts of children.

I've heard talk about how one would have to live FAR more carefully with immortality because the odds of an accident occuring at SOME point in time to end it all increases with time (which is true) but really while that's a statistical fact, I don't think such a thing needs to rule one's day to day behavior. It's just one of those things people would have to accept.

This is all hypothetical of course. Any technology that'd make people immortal is almost certainly not going to be around until long after I'm gone.

Anonymous said...

I would certainly not like to be immortal, it is the fear of death that makes people want it and also, make it so in creating belief in after-life and such.

I do not fear death and with that, I do not want to be immortal. The term "immortal" is rather poorly used as well, we can not really define it, a 500 year stretch is quite an "eternity" for us mere humans is it not?

Main reason I would NOT want to be immortal is to see my loved ones die whiles I live on. Actually, becoming immortyal would make life Useless, why care? You cant die, a new century and they are all dead, me sitting here, unchanged, the same, whiles the world changes.

As Antonio Banderas said in that Vampire movie, The world changes, We do not....

No, I rather face death however scary it is. My life is soon over and I do not fear it nor regret what I done, I made mistakes, but that is what life is, mistakes and success, you cant have happiness without missery.

Death is part of it, without death, how can you truly Enjoy life?

Dark Jaguar said...

I think the "opt out" button in your head solves the "forced to go on" problem. Also, my fear of death isn't really what motivates me to live my life. I think people can be fully capable of wanting to make the most of the present whether it will end tomorrow or a millenium from now. Motivation as a psychological phenomenon is not so simply explained.

I can also go on about how death shouldn't scare me, but I can't really say I believe that. If that's true, why do we make murder illegal? Clearly they don't care about having been murdered after the fact. But it's the BEFORE, and the opportunities they COULD have had, that make all the difference. I can't honestly say I'm not afraid to die. There's things I fear more, and I fully accept my death as something which, technology permitting, is inevitable for me. Further, I don't let that fear control my life. However, all said and done, I don't think a natural life span is enough for me. Eternity? Get back to me a thousand years into it and I'll most assuradly say no way, but again, I'm not asking to be completely indestructable and FORCED to go on living, but simply ALLOWED to go on living so long as I continue to see the value in it. Now maybe there's something far too sudden about an instant death for many, and it's too unappealing, but ever seen Bicentenial Man? I think a "slow decay" can be turned on as well, allowing a certain unknown time element into the whole thing when one so chooses.

Further, we have no idea what future minds will be like. The "boredom with eternity" problem is one that ape minds would have to deal with, but maybe new psychological makeups will be able to address that and allow people to just be so incredibly super excited about EVERYTHING FOREVER. Hard to say, except that drugs can make people who can't imagine caring about life right now much more engaged in it, and that's just "careless" splattering the entire brain with a wash of various chemicals. If we could actually rewire neurons and more specifically target every single variable, the whole game changes. Again, hypothetical, but if we're talking about immortality, that sort of thing would go hand in hand with it.

All I'm saying is just writing off eternity with those reasons seems to show a lack of imagination.

Anonymous said...

I'm not asking to be completely indestructable and FORCED to go on living, but simply ALLOWED to go on living so long as I continue to see the value in it.

And this is the issue, we know very well that people (use your imagination) who would live "forever" would eventually choose to pass away. They would allow themselves to die, as it where.

The people generally promoting immortality, such as Muslims or Christians, have a deep fear of death, presumably because of the culture they live in and if you ask the same person if they want to live forever, they will lyingly say No but stil lrefer to their immortal Soul in Heaven (they always go to Heaven).